July 05, 2005
RSS Feeds
Posted by Victor Fleischer

Larry Ribstein is indeed serious about questioning the costs vs. benefits of blog mergers.  It's funny how what started off as satire has led to some interesting real world questions.

I don't think there is an easy answer to Larry's question, but It might be worth a taking a minute to explain why I think RSS technology might change the result.

RSS technology affects the way I read blogs in much the same way Tivo changes the way I watch TV.  I used to watch TV by turning it on and flipping channels.   How 20th century.  Now, based on my preferences, TiVo pulls the data for me, so I can watch at my convenience.  I can TiVo a program on PBS, and if it doesn't grab me in the first couple of minutes, I can delete and move on.  I do this a lot with Charlie Rose, for example.  In the end I have found that I don't watch less TV than pre-TiVo days, but I watch better TV. 

My RSS feeder pulls data from blogs and presents them in a way that's easy to skim.  I usually skim the first couple of sentences of each post, and then only occasionally do I click through to read the whole thing if I'm interested.  RSS feeds save time by having the information loaded up in advance -- you don't have to load a new page each time.  We are not talking about milliseconds a day per blog, but seconds a day.  Even with a fast internet connection, those seconds add up, perhaps to 10 or 20 minutes a day for me.  And as with Tivo, I add more blogs to fill up the time I saved.

As more and more readers adopt RSS, the marginal costs of an additional co-blogger go down.  Readers interested only in Gordon and Christine can avoid me more easily with RSS than without.  But not as easily as if I weren't on the blog at all.  The key assumption I make, then, is that there are marginal benefits to those readers who might rarely click through based on a link from Gordon or Christine in the pre-merger world.  I have to assume that readers benefit from my work, or else what's the point.  The hope is that to the marginal (median?) reader of Conglomerate, the marginal benefit of my posts exceed the (lower with RSS) marginal costs.  Time will tell. 

One more point.  In an odd way, blog mergers cut against the broader effect of RSS-like technology.  Technology that aggregates data for you based on your pre-articulated prefererences make it possible for you to choose to see only what confirms your pre-existing views.  Tivo means that I rarely see new shows until someone tells me about them, since I don't flip channels any more.  You could look at my TiVo and think that HBO (Six Feet, Entourage, etc.) had extreme monopoly power.  In contrast, by merging blogs, it's more likely that someone who normally focuses on securities regulation might stumble across a post on tax policy or Google or venture capital or hedge funds or any of the other topics that I frequently dabble in.   So indeed what Christine and Gordon have done -- and I suspect that this is what is driving Larry's objection -- is force some readers to choke down my posts as spinach along with Gordon's steak and Christine's potatoes.  Well, don't worry, Larry.  RSS means that you have one bite of spinach instead of a plateful, and besides, it will make you stronger in the long run. 

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